Friday, 22 January 2010

Research: Henri Cartier-Bresson

So, I come to the second assignment in the people and place course, and I didn't have to think that long or hard to decide who to research. This entire chapter has been about people unaware, and who better to look into than Henri Cartier-Bresson, seen by many as the father of modern photojournalism, and in my opinion, possibly the greatest street photographer of all time.

Firstly, I came across this video on you-tube of his photographs, and it's the only way I could include such a quantity of photographs in this blog post. So I urge you to watch it through, because the standard of work throughout is quite remarkable:



Henri was a quite incredible man. He was born into a well off family, and grew up in a bourgeois neighbourhood in Paris. He got a good education, and loved painting, thanks to his Uncle teaching him when he was young. He went to a private art school, run by french artist André Lhote. He also studied at the University of Cambridge, and spent a year as a hunter in the Ivory Coast. To add to all this, he was captured during the Second World War, and was held in a German prisoner of war camp, from which he escaped on his third attempt.


So even without photography, Cartier-Bresson certainly experienced life. He got into photography after his work at art school, when he first picked up a Leica camera. He fell in love with the way his camera and a 50mm lens could capture real life, it was a form of instant art for him. This was very much visible in all his work. He was capturing the 'poetry' of life, and hence every one of his images was composed beautifully, as a scene as a whole, and not just of the person or people that were the main object of his scene.


But even with all this, for me, Cartier-Bresson's largest impact was with his term "the decisive moment". He had a book published under this name in England, and it is a quote that has stuck in people's memories. "There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment". And he was quite right. The biggest art to capturing photographs of this nature, is capturing the right moment, and of this, he was a master. From the perfectly timed image of the man trying to leap over the puddle, caught in mid air, just before he hits the puddle, to a cyclist caught in exactly the right point of the image, to complete the composition with the railings from the stairs. Cartier-Bresson really did know how to pluck the best moment, from a scene in-front of him, and capture it forever in a photograph.


I must admit, Street photography has never really been my thing. I felt it to be snooping, exploiting others, and it seems to have developed a trend for showing people in a bad light. This was just my opinion, and it may just be me that thinks like this. But researching Henri Cartier-Bresson has really inspired me. He has shown a whole new side to street photography. In a lot of his images, the people are anonymous, just characters in a bigger picture. He captured the beauty of everyday life, those hidden moments we see but do not register, and this really is not that far from the photography I am used to, portrait and wedding photography, where the decisive moment is key, the look from a groom as he sees his bride approaching, the natural giggle from the person in the portrait sitting, the tear in a proud mothers eye, as her son makes his speech. To me, the decisive moment is definitely the key in every form of photography.


Sources:
http://www.photo-seminars.com/Fame/bresson.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Cartier_Bresson
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8PoJamI1bg

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